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Protecting Your Online Brand – Don’t Forget Your Nicknames

Adria Saracino
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cybersquatter

We've all done it before – we see a commercial for a brand we haven't heard of before and immediately go to Google to find the company website. While online marketing is still a major tool for bringing new customers into your sales funnel, many business transactions are still the result of customers seeing your brand offline and doing a quick online search to find your website.

Thus, this form of customer acquisition is still a huge opportunity to make a good first impression. The question is, though, are these searchers seeing what you want them to see?

The Problem

There are various permutations for any domain. You can go with the .com version, the .net version, even the .org version. Then there's spelling variations or considerations like, "Should we put 'the' in the domain?" It's smart to purchase different variations of these and redirect them all to your main domain, such as in the case of the brand Bigstock redirecting www.bigstock.com to www.bigstockphoto.com.

However, there are new threats to domain name security. One of the increasing risks for businesses is the "hijacking" of their brand name in online searches. Domain name squatters, or "cybersquatters", have realized the monetary value and the power of purchasing specific domains ahead of the brands themselves doing so.

This is a problem in and of itself, but an area often overlooked by both big and small businesses alike is that of owning their brands' street/nicknames online. Nicknames can become synonymous with, or in some cases even more popular than, the original name. For SMEs and popular brands, retaining ownerships of them can make a massive difference to the business revenue because it increases the chances of Google searches driving potential customers to the correct website (yours!) and not some seedy looking one.

And don't forget, more can be at stake than just revenue.

If you're nickname is indeed taken over by a cybersquatter, it can be a very costly legal process to claim back that domain name once it's gone. What's more, not owning your key online domains allows online imposters to more convincingly pose as your brand online; and their activities could lead to diminished customer trust and a tarnished reputation, both of which can devalue marketing investments and revenue.

With the stakes so high it comes as a bit of a shock to see well-known established companies forgetting to register domain names associated with their nicknames.

Names.co.uk conducted research and found that companies such as BMW, McDonald's and Primark have forgotten to register their famous "street" names, leaving the abbreviations open to cybersquatters and other businesses keen to associate themselves with the household brands.

Let's look at the facts.

McDonald's vs. Mickey D's

While McDonald's has made sure to secure its official website www.mcdonalds.com, it has not registered the domain www.maccyds.com (or even and www.macdonalds.com). US nickname www.mickeydees.com is also overlooked (and still available) despite the chain having the name trademarked since 1982.

BMW vs. Beemer

In addition, BMW cars and motorcycles are commonly referred to as "beemers" or "beemas" in conversation and in business. However, the website address www.beema.com is currently owned by a digital marketing agency, still yet to build its website. In this case the domain has not been cybersquatted, just taken by a rival business keen to claim the name before the original big brand has a chance to register the domain. Oh, yea, and www.beemer.com isn't purchased yet.

It isn't fair to only talk about the brands not protecting their street names. Some companies are indeed becoming wise to the issue of nickname domain names and taking steps to protect their online identity.

For example, Marks and Spencer, a popular retailer in the UK similar to Macy's, is often referred to as "Marks and Sparks" or "M and S". It purchased its nicknames, www.marksandsparks.com and www.mands.com, and used 301 redirects to drive customers to its main site, www.marksandspencer.com.

The Solution

So what strategies should you employ to protect your online nicknames and brand?

Prevention

Prevention of nickname domain loss is far cheaper and easier than repairing or reclaiming it. Thus, it makes sense to employ a prevention strategy. You can do this by registering your trading names and any nicknames in as many extensions as possible. It's also important for companies to keep up to date with new naming trends as and when they arise.

Maintenance

Internet marketers need to structure an extremely organized environment for their firms' domain names portfolio, ensuring their organization has a single, global view of them and a key department responsible for domain name registration upkeep. This enables a firm to know which existing domains are due to be renewed and when. Setting aside budget for the purchase of new names that may become popular allows you the freedom to make the purchases swiftly without large amounts of red tape.

Alternatively you might want to consider using a domain name management service; you can do this through most domain names registrars'. They will consolidate your domain portfolio into one place and stay on top of your domain renewals so they don't fall into the wrong hands. They can also ensure your domains are registered in key extensions relevant to your current markets and keep up-to-date with new domain extensions being made available that may affect your business.

What if Your Nicknames Have Already Been Squatted or Taken?

Examine the website to determine if it looks like the domain owner is a squatter looking to make money out of the site or just someone who got lucky with your desired domain name. A key indicator that the site is managed by a cybersquatter would be if there are adverts all over the homepage.

If you think it is owned by a genuine business or individual (who is not a squatter), you could consider contacting them and asking if they would be willing to transfer the domain name to you. Instead of offering to buy it, you could offer to cover their initial costs of purchasing the domain and the costs of purchasing a new one. Make sure you keep all contact in writing, as this will be important if you need to take legal action later on.

If the domain owner is clearly a squatter or you own the trademark to the name, your best option is to consult a lawyer or domain name recovery service, which is offered by most domain name registrars. Fortunately the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy provides an expedited administrative procedure to allow the dispute to be resolved without the cost and delays often encountered in court litigation. If you think the situation could escalate to court litigation it is worth considering in advance the costs of doing so, and whether it's worth it.

Summary

It's unlikely domain name squatting will go away as long as there is money to be made. The sooner your organization has a brand protection effort that is led and actively supported by the marketers responsible for your brand's online presence, the lower the risk is of incurring potentially millions of dollars in expenses and eroding the value of your hard built brands.

Disclaimer: The above is solely the opinion of the writer and doesn't constitute as legal advice.

Image Credit: Bigstock


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